Reviews

Up North: A Guide to Ontario's Wilderness from Blackflies to the Northern Lights

Up North: A Guide to Ontario’s Wilderness from Blackflies to the Northern Lights

Up North reviews

Globe and Mail, May 29/93
by Laszlo Buhasz

While packing the car for your own journey to the summer place, you may want to include Up North, one of those cleverly assembled reference works that is entertaining enough to read from cover to cover at one sitting.

Crammed full of information on the flora, fauna and natural forces of nature on our doorstep, it is a mini-encyclopedia of fascinating information about Central and Northern Ontario that deserves room on the cottage shelf or space in the glove compartments of motoring travellers.

Take the section on spiders, for example (those creepy, hairy things Freud contended gave us the willies because they evoked a primal fear of “a cannibal witch” with long, bending fingers). There are about 1,500 species in Ontario alone. How much do they eat? The estimated weight of insects eaten annually by spiders in Canada equals the weight of the country’s entire human population. And what is the proper term for a group of the things? A (shudder) “smother of spiders.”

Everything you ever wanted to know — and probably much that you wished would remain in the realm of blissful ignorance — about animals, birds, insects, fish, mammals, plants, reptiles, day sky, night sky and the ground you walk on is here in this slim work.

How much does a moose weigh? What do those mosquitoes bite when humans aren’t around? How old are the rocks around your fireplace? Get Up North to find out.

Canadian Geographic Sept/93
by Dan Schneider

A mosquito bites. A colourful bird catches the eye. A chorus of spring peepers assaults the ear. Whether “up north” or “down south,” we are all at least casual observers of the natural world. This book sets out to explain and interpret what it is we feel and see and hear in these natural encounters. It is an eclectic collection of definitions and stories about plants and animals, the heavens above and the earth below. The focus is on central Ontario — “up north” to millions of vacationers — but many of the topics apply equally to the rest of Canada and amateur naturalists over a wide area will enjoy it.

We learn that what allows a hummingbird to beat its wings up to 80 times per second is chest muscles that make up 30 percent of its body weight. That the toad is a genuine garden-dwelling pest control officer, eating an estimated 10,000 insects every three months. And why poison ivy causes rashes, and what makes rainbows, and how the great glaciers landscaped Ontario.

A mere 320 pages seems inadequate for a scope so broad. But the authors have divided the book into 146 user-friendly sections, and added enough detail to satisfy most curious naturalists. Each section has an information-packed main part and a trivia-rich sidebar. For instance, the section on bullfrogs details their life cycle, feeding, mating habits and threats from humans, while the sidebar fills us in on world record frog jumps and famous frogs (Kermit, Jeremiah, ect.).

Authors Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner are described as “seasoned journalists, avid campers and former Wolf Cubs.” They add that they are not biologists, and that they have “endeavoured to be accurate while straying from a strict scientific or academic tone.” And stray they do. They weave information into wonderfully readable and often humorous packages. If nothing else, the book should greatly upgrade reading time in the cottage outhouse.

There are a few small errors. The claim that moose are “by far the biggest animals in Ontario” leave out polar bears. Fungi are no longer in the plant kingdom but make up a kingdom by themselves. And the photo of in the poison ivy section shows raspberry leaves. While the line illustrations are attractive and realistic, and the colour photographs good, the authors’ black-and-white photos range from acceptable to poor. This is not a book to buy just for its illustrations.

But these criticisms are minor compared to the tremendous information and entertainment value of Up North. I was thrilled to find a book that contained so many interesting facts about so many topics. I recommend it for anyone wishing to increase their enjoyment of the natural world by learning more about it.

London Free Press July 17/93
Sights and sounds of Ontario’s north explained
by Peter Geigen-Miller

Books aren’t the first item most people think about packing when they are heading off for a hiking, canoeing, bicycling or camping trip.

This book might be an exception. Travellers might even want to stick it in an outside pocket of the back pack for quick and easy reference.

Up North is jammed with useful information on the birds, mammals, reptiles, trees, plants, bugs and other natural wonders you’re likely to encounter on a trip into the wild or cottage country.

Authors Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner obviously share a deep sense of wonder about Ontario’s vast expanses of woods and lakes and they convey it with passion and wit in this delightful book.

By up north, the writers are talking about the vast area of lakes and mixed forest that sweeps from the Rideau lakes, Kawarthas and Bruce Peninsula to the Canadian Shield as far north as the Temagami region.

The book is divided into four main chapters — the animal kingdom, the plant kingdom, the heavens and Mother Earth. Entries in each section are in alphabetical order, which means information can be found quickly and easily.

What does this book tell us about the creatures of the near north? There are some fascinating ones like the red-tailed newt, tiny creatures that spend the first two of three months of life in the water.

Then they lose their finned tail edges and gills, develop lungs and live the next two to five years of life on solid ground. Later, fins develop on their tails and they head back into the water to mate.

The authors devote three pages to the common loon, the official bird of Ontario and many outdoors organizations. The loon’s haunting, soulful cry has echoed through the minds of generations of visitors to rock-rimmed northern lakes.

Actually, as Up North explains, the familiar cry is one of four distinct loon calls. Each rises in pitch according to the intensity of emotion. The wail is used to summon mates and offspring or as a territorial declaration to neighbors.

There are dozens more entries covering everything from the white birch to the night sky. Bennet and Tiner are journalists and the research that went into compiling this 316-page collection of facts and figures is truly impressive.

They felt one essential item missing from their camping gear was a book to explain all the sights and sounds they encountered. The kind of book they were looking for wasn’t available in stores so they decided to write it themselves.

Kingston Whig-Standard Aug. 23/93
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?
by Walter George Smith

Self-described seasoned journalists, avid campers and former Wolf Cubs, the authors have used their experiences to produce an excellent pocket encyclopedia for those who venture into the Ontario wilderness. Every Wolf Cub will find it useful.

Come to that, so will every city dweller leaving for a short trip into the country. On a rainy day under canvas or cottage roof, it will serve to keep restless children and adults occupied and informed with a game of naturalists’ Trivial Pursuit drawn from its pages.

Up North is full of information about animals, birds, insects, fish, mammals, reptiles, plants and trees. It will tell you something about any of the common ones you might encounter out there in the wild, and when it gets dark and the stars twinkle in the sky away from the campfire’s glow, it will introduce you to the wonders of the heavens.

The book is no substitute for field guides, it will not help the serious field naturalist. But it is a marvellous introduction to the wonders of nature for curious children. Every entry includes facts and figures about the animal, plant, bird, organism or species described. And here the authors’ research efforts really shine, for they have unearthed some interesting, little-known facts.

Did you know that the flying speed of a loon is about 72 mph, with wing beats of about 2.5 per second?

Did you know that a brook trout’s clutch of eggs numbers about 200, that they require four to six months to develop and that their survival rate is 65 to 75 per cent? Did you know that the common red pine may grow to between 60 and 80 feet, and have a life span of up to 350 years?

Cottage Life July/93
by Jo Currie

So you’re sitting around the table, and somebody happens to notice a spider in the corner busily renovating its web, and — this being the cottage — instead of running for the vacuum cleaner you just go on sitting, idly speculating about what it’s up to.

You could reach instead for Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner’s new book Up North ($19.99, Reed Books) and learn that “spider” comes from the Old English word “spinthron”, that the correct term for a group of spiders is a “smother”, and that the weight of insects eaten annually by spiders in Canada is equal to the weight of the country’s entire human population.

Up North is a well-organized compendium of information about the natural phenomena of cottage country, each entry a mix of identification aids (including excellent black-and-white illustrations by Marta Lynn Scythes), basic explanations, and “fascinating facts” (easily accessible in boxes). Though not comprehensive enough to be used as a field guide, the book covers plenty of territory; it’s a pleasure to dip into.

Now Magazine May 20/93
Ontario Guide a Delight
by Ted Mumford

Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner’s Up North (Reed, $19.99) is a delightful variation on the nature guidebook. No book-length chapters for these magazine writers (Tim Tiner is a longtime NOW contributor) — the book consists of scores of bite-size looks at the things one is most likely to encounter in the Ontario wild, whether flora (how to tell all those conifers apart), fauna (know your turtles)j, or phenomena (wind and weather systems).

The twist is not so much the organization, which allows the reader to zip in and out of the book at will, but the lighthearted tone. The Fish section runs — minnows, lake monsters, perch. Trivia abounds — a group of toads is a knot, hail falls at 160 kilometres per hour. Yet the whimsy is rooted in ecological sensitivity, not flippancy for its own sake.

This approach reflects a mission of popularizing outdoor pursuits, of reminding us that they are more fun and better for the soul than vegetating in the city. The project is aided by splendid illustrations by Marta Lynne Scythes, a nifty design and photos of varying quality by the authors. Up North is warmly recommended (albeit by someone who had a small part in its creation).

Up North Again: More of Ontario's Wilderness from Ladybugs to the Pleiades

Up North Again: More of Ontario’s Wilderness from Ladybugs to the Pleiades

Up North Again Reviews

Toronto Sun June 4/97
Northern Exposure
by Linda A. Fox

Here’s a book for those who are into the sex lives of plants or can’t live without knowing which fish has taste buds lining it entire body.

It’s called Up North Again: More of Ontario’s Wilderness from Ladybugs to the Pleiades by Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner. It’s a follow-up to their previous best-seller Up North.

Here’s a sample of some of the weird stuff you’ll learn about the north-end of your very own province.

For example, did you know the killdeer bird keeps predators at bay with an imitation of a broken wing? The bird flops to the ground in front of the attacker, dragging a supposedly broken wing and twittering in pain. Just when the predator comes in for lunch, the little killdeer hops away. Time after time after time… finally frustrating the attacker into finding his meal elsewhere.

In the insect world, grasshoppers could whup Ben Johnson in a minute. Some of our northern bugs can jump 20 times their own length. It’s not muscle power either, it’s a protein called resilin. With each jump the chemical is released into the long backlegs allowing the bug to jump forever.

O.K., I know you’re looking for something a little more sexy…

Up North Again tells the tale of the Jack-in-the-pulpit plant.

The authors say the elegant, shade-loving flower may actually mix the sacred along with the profane in its name. Jack was once a common nickname for, ahem, well you know, a man’s appendage.

The plant begins life as a male, with pollen-bearing flowers, and as soon as it stores up enough nutrients and energy it becomes a girl plant. Jack becomes Jill. (And you thought botany was boring!)

If you want to know which fish has taste buds all over – you’ll have to read the book.

Anyway, this book is full of all kinds of amazing information, rounded out with loads of statistics and little sketches. It’s fun and informative. And next time you’re in the woods, you look around with a little more awe.

Cottage Life Sept/97
Come on Up North Again
by Carol Anne Campbell

Authors Doug Bennet and Time Tiner have created another eclectic guide to Ontario’s great outdoors. Released in May, Up North Again (McClelland & Stewart; $24.99) is the sequel to the 1993 best-selling nature guide, Up North (Reed Books Canada; $19.99).

What’s new: More than 120 listings, from catfish to constellations, beetles to bluebirds, and pickerel to pussy willows. Categories include amphibians, birds, creepy-crawlies, fish, mammals, reptiles, plants, trees and shrubs, and the heavens.

Distinguishing features: Natural-history profiles with personality. A rare and delightful blend of well-researched facts, amusing trivia, uncommon native stories and folklore, charming illustrations , and literary and classical references. A welcome change from other “just-the-facts” identification guides.

Added extras: Checklists of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians produced by the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, as well as a month-by-month almanac of migrations, mating seasons, bloomings, and other natural phenomena.

The verdict: Fun, informative, spirited, and cleverly crafted.

Nature Canada Winter/98
by Scott Plunkett

Nature guide authors rarely have a problem generating enough material to include. The challenge is to choose those accounts that will be most useful to the average reader. This volume has allowed the authors of the 1993 nature guide Up North to revisit their listing of central Ontario’s animals and natural phenomena and to fill in the picture. (The slightly misleading title refers to the fact that to most Canadians, anything north of Toronto is “up north”.)

Up North Again’s listings of amphibians, snakes, and mammals generally include species that are common, but less likely to be seen by the casual naturalist. For example, the yellow-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale) thrives below the surface of woodlands, occasionally emerging on rainy spring nights while congregating for mating. Even though they are rarely seen, however, these salamanders definitely are not rare. In terms of biomass, they outweigh all local bird species combined!

Some sections have been expanded from the previous volume. Listings for aquatic species now include some of Ontario’s sport fish, such as pike and pickerel; while the chapter titled ”The Heavens” features constellations that can be seen in spring, fall and winter, complementing the summer constellations described in Up North.

Not surprisingly, the species that naturalists traditionally think of as defining central Ontario have received the most attention. Greatly expanded sections on birds, plants, and trees make up the majority of the guide. And by using casual and often anthropomorphic language, the authors have turned what could have been a dry reference manual into an entertaining read. The feeding strategy of downy woodpeckers (males feed in upper branches, females on trunks and larger limbs) is described as a possible method of avoiding marital squabbles; while kingbirds that attack larger hawks and foxes are likened to a “crazed Captain Ahab astride Moby Dick.” In addition, each listing contains facts about the species, from basic natural history information to current uses, associated species, and medicinal value.

In up North Again, the authors have produced a great supplement to the original volume. This highly readable guide to many of the common species that might be encountered by the casual naturalist should be a welcome addition to any cottage library.

Bruce Trail News Spring/98
by Joy Black

“Up North is a state of mind as much as a geographic place.” Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner do an excellent job of bring this statement to life in Up North Again, a chatty yet informative continuation of their popular first book, Up North (McClelland and Stewart Inc., 1993).

Both books combine to form an eclectic guide to Central Ontario’s wildlife. New additions to Up North Again include an annual wildlife almanac, field checklists provided by the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (that should have been included in larger print), and a handy master index that refers the reader to topics discussed in both editions of the book.

The majority of Up North contains one to two page descriptive entries in a wide variety of sections that range from amphibians and creepy-crawlies (a must read!) to fish and the heavens.

Wacky topic subtitles in each section entice the reader to investigate further. Who wouldn’t want to know more about the Pileated Woodpecker: Monarch of the Tree Whackers; the Fisher: Prickly Prey a Forte; or the Jack-in-the-Pulpit: The Transsexual Preacher? Although full colour photographs would be more beneficial for identification purposes than black and white sketches (especially with respect to birds), the margins are jam packed with information on markings, habitat, food, range, and pieces of trivia.

The plant section is particularly interesting as the authors delve into folklore surrounding the various species and note some of their traditional uses as food or medicine. For example, native healers associated the red trillium’s colour with blood and used its root in preparations to stop bleeding, especially in childbirth. Solomon’s Seal has been widely employed
by North American natives as a poultice for bruises, sores, wounds, and black eyes.

The section on the heavens also merits special mention. It covers some of the major winter, spring and autumn constellations (summer was covered in Up North) and the phenomenon of eclipses. The latter provides fascinating reading and displays the comical wit often displayed by Bennet and Tiner: “The best bet for outdoor viewing [of a lunar eclipse] might be May 15, 2003, when the snow is gone (or should be), the bugs aren’t too bad yet (let’s hope) and the cottage and camping season is just getting underway.”

The last major section of the book is the Nature Almanac. This consists of two page tributes to each month of the year described in easy-to-read point form passages. Some of the points are overly simplified to suit the layout of the section; however, this flaw is combated by the type of material presented in the Almanac. Bennet and Tiner urge readers to explore the great outdoors in all seasons of the year by proving that there is always something interesting to see.

Pick up a copy of Up North Again and enjoy it for what it is, an interesting and informative (yet not overly scientific) look at the wildlife and outdoor phenomenon present in central Ontario. I didn’t originally buy Up North, but I will now — I need it to complete my collection!

Now Magazine June 19/97
by Ted Mumford

If escaping to the open-sky hinterland is a necessary tonic for urbanites, it also reminds us of how little woodland lore we remember form camp. Back in 1993, my friends Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner helped bridge the information gap with Up North (McClelland & Stewart, $24.99 paper), a crash course on the Ontario wild.

Up North offers writeups of one to three pages on some 150 subjects — animals, plants, geology, constellations — in a style that mixes easy-to-understand natural history, well-chosen trivia and anthropomorphizing good humour. Best-sellerdom resulted

So now this bearded duo have reemerged from the boreal forest with — wait for it — Up North Again (McClelland & Stewart, $24.99 paper), which at first glance is all the stuff they had to leave out of the first book for reasons of space. But Up North Again also offers a month-by-month almanac (which makes the blood stir in mysterious ways) and several field checklists for critters. Nonetheless, it’s really one book in two volumes, so purchasing Up North is the necessary complement — or preliminary — to acquiring the new book.

Quill & Quire June/97
by Sasha Chapman

Up North Again by journalists and outdoor enthusiasts Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner, gives readers a glimpse of the natural wonders of southern Shield country (the “up north” of most Ontario city dwellers). It is an entertaining, fact-filled fireside read for the generally curious , rather than an exhaustive field guide, even when read as a companion to Bennet and Tiner’s first book, the bestselling Up North.

Divided into 150 entries with accompanying black-and-white illustrations that cover everything from creepy-crawlies to the heavens, the information is wide-ranging, often telling the reader as much about etymology as entomology. For instance, the elderberry’s scientific genus, Sambucus, is responsible for the Italian liqueur’s name, and the “mander” in gerrymander comes from salamander. Only occasionally does the information become trivia for trivia’s sake, as when the use of the word “chiaroscuro” becomes an excuse for mentioning Caravaggio’s painting techniques.

The anthropomorphic entries evoke the sensation that the reader, too, is watching as “Big Daddy Blue,” the indigo bunting, belts out a cover version of a favourite song. Sidebars list each creature’s vital statistics. An appendix gives an overview of the year outdoors, bringing together the individual entries and underlining the book’s unwritten theme: everything is interconnected. Through its anecdotes, Up North Again gently reminds us that just as we can have an impact on nature, nature also has an impact on us — a woodpecker, for example, can force the last-minute cancellation of a space-shuttle mission.

Recounting Native American creation myths, borrowing from ancient Chinese and Greek stories of how the gods mapped out he stars, and referring to anecdotes from the lives of such scientists as Darwin and Linnaeus, Up North Again is an excellent modern digest of how the natural world has captured and fascinated the human imagination.

Wild City: A Guide to Nature in Urban Ontario, from Termites to Coyotes

Wild City: A Guide to Nature in Urban Ontario, from Termites to Coyotes

Wild City reviews

Now Magazine Dec. 16/04
by John Bacher

Anthropologists say that children in cultures more in harmony with the earth than our auto-crazed society can identify every species of wildlife within 100 miles of their homes.

Given our environmental illiteracy, Wild City would be an excellent tool to raise educational standards in Ontario to such tribal levels. Even the most veteran amateur naturalist of our urban wilds will discover something new here.

Consider what Tim Tiner and Doug Bennet reveal about one keystone species of our Carolinian biome, the white-tailed deer. Native people who once lived in Toronto modified their habitats to increase their abundance to the point of constructing enclosures.

I also learned a new explanation for why Iroquois chiefs are symbolically crowned with deer antlers. Antlers are viewed as super-sensitive, and the chiefs need to be very aware of their surroundings.

And I discovered how to distinguish healthy forests, rich in spring ephemerals such as trout lilies and trilliums, from degraded habitats choked with dog-strangling vine and garlic mustard.

Celebrating the wonders of urban habitats, Wild City cites a multitude of glories. For instance, it tracks the story of the Canada geese that dominate our waterfront after verging on collapse in 1920s Ontario, the street patrols that rescue birds that have crashed into our skyscrapers and the Solomon’s seal wildflower that survives in most urban forests.

Wild City’s cover photo, showing a peregrine falcon in downtown Toronto, sends a great message about the need to revere our urban wildlands. It’s taken from the web site of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation, a charity that monitors falcons with a variety of high-tech devices, 24-hour video surveillance and 50 volunteers.

The Wild Woods Guide: From Minnesota to Maine, the Nature and Lore of the Great North Woods

The Wild Woods Guide: From Minnesota to Maine, the Nature and Lore of the Great North Woods

Wild Woods Guide reviews

Chicago Tribune May 18/03

The title of this book certainly lives up to its name. Naturalists Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner have assembled a rather hefty guide to plants, rocks, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and various creepy crawlies that live in the great forests of North America. And it is indeed a vast area that they cover, from Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Michigan, into the Canadian Shield of central Ontario, southern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces and back to the New England states and New York’s Adirondacks. Anyone with an interest in hiking, birding and nature will find the guide fascinating.

Bernd Heinrich, author of A Year in the Maine Woods

The jacket says it all, and says it right. This is a portable encyclopedia that you will want to and can easily carry into the north woods. It contains a riot of exotic trivia that is fun to read about, and it is packed with solid knowledge that is informative and not found in most reference books.

Amazon.com, Customer Review April 14, 2003
by Vickie from Northern Michigan

I loved this book. Having just lived through another l-o-n-g winter for the privilege of living in the northwoods, this book was like a breath of fresh air. From mosses to white pines, water striders to black bears, this very readable book covers most everything you’re likely to find in the northern woods — and there are even segments on clouds and constellations. One-stop shopping for all your info needs if you love the woods and are curious about its other inhabitants. Lots of little-known facts written in an intelligent and engaging fashion. An easy-to-use reference that even children could enjoy, with entries that make you want to check out “just one more thing.” After buying it yesterday we had a long road trip ahead of us — that sort of flew by as I read entries aloud to my husband. It would be a great addition to our cabin “library” on a pine shelf behind the woodstove, but I kind of think I’ll keep it here at home, close at hand.

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